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Are Paper Receipts Harmful To Our Health?

I’ve always been suspect of being asked for an emailed receipt at a store checkout. I feel like it’s an invasion of my privacy, as though I’m permitting the store to send me all kinds of unwanted marketing material. 

However, after doing a bit of research about the thermal paper used in the majority of store receipts, I’m far more willing to offer my email address to shop owners. 

Why? Well, legally companies aren’t allowed to email you anything without your permission, based on current CASL legislation. In other words, they are not allowed to ask for your email to send you a receipt and then automatically add you to their mailing list. 

Besides, even if some companies did this, which they will, I can always unsubscribe to a list or delete an unwanted email. Also, inadvertently ingesting a known harmful chemical through handling a thermal paper receipt is far more difficult to reverse. 

That’s right—certain types of thermal paper contain Bisphenol A (BPA) and Bisphenol S (BPS). These are the same chemicals that were officially banned by the FDA from use in baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012. In my opinion, that describes a chemical that is potentially harmful. Hey—if it ain’t good for babies, chances are it ain’t good for any of us grown-ups.

Is there documentation about the dangers of thermal receipts? Actually there’s quite a bit. If you’re interested in some eye-opening reading, check out this comprehensive study done by Environmental Defence Canada.  

The Plastic Pollution Collation recommends not accepting receipts, and if you do, to wash your hands within four minutes, seeing as after that “it’s too late”(!) 

It’s far worse for cashiers that handle this material all day long. They increase their exposure to BPA and BPS for extended periods of time, and alarmingly, when hands are sanitized prior to handling the material, the chances of absorbing the chemicals can increase by 115 fold (Source: THE HIDDEN COST OF RECEIPTS: How BPA and BPS find their way into our bodies). 

You’d never assume that we’d need to worry about handling paper receipts. That’s the problem with materials that become ubiquitous in our daily lives and are never questioned. 

But really, how important is it that our receipts be printed on thermal paper? Thankfully, there are alternatives such as phenol-free paper rolls and point of sale machines that don’t require thermal paper types to generate receipts. 

Even so, a full-scale change will bring about all kinds of complication from rethinking suppliers’ point of sale machines, and changing a way of doing something that has been happening for… well maybe only 30 years. 

Market demand fuels production. So what if we all said “No” to receipts? 

Digital natives don’t balk at an emailed receipt. I’m in the same boat now, given that I find it’s far easier to organize my purchases through emailed receipts and checking against online statements. My paper receipts tended to just pile up until I finally got so frustrated with the clutter, I’d throw them out. And then of course, then the earth has to deal with it. 

My new pledge is to not accept thermal paper receipts. I’m going to seem like a crazy person, but I am also going to mention to cashiers that they shouldn’t bother printing and handling them either because they are proven to be a health concern. I’ll let you know how the experience goes. 

In the meantime, what do you all think?   


BPA banned in baby bottles: 

More on thermal paper:

More reading:


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